Eli Mattern is a lawyer and a leading legal technology entrepreneur. She practiced law as a legal aid attorney for five years before making the switch to legal tech and legal startups. She co-founded and is CEO of SavvySuit, which “build[s] access to justice software and products for the private bar.” I asked her about her work in using legal tech in helping increase access to justice, what lessons she has learned from working within the legal tech space, and what legal tech she has created and is now working on.
What first pulled you into legal tech?
My co-founder and I met working as staff attorneys for a local legal aid. He and I spent a lot of time talking about the tools we wished we had, and how they could help our practice. After weeks or maybe months of daydreaming, we decided we should stop wishing other people would build the tools we needed and just build them ourselves.
How do you see legal tech helping increase access to justice?
There are so many ways. Legal service organizations understand managing limited resources and because of that have invested heavily in optimization and automation efforts. The technology coming out of the legal services agencies is really some of the most advanced legal tech being adopted, and it’s certainly on par with the private bar. In the future, I see more automated self-help centers for pro se litigants who have the ability to manage their cases themselves. I also see increased access to low-bono and unbundled legal aid lawyers to assist people with micro legal advice.
What has been most frustrating to you about your work with legal tech?
Many times the people commissioning or requesting tech tools don’t fully understand the problem they are trying to solve. My business partner and I frequently tell people that if you add technology to a poorly designed process, the best possible outcome is that the lousy process moves faster. More often than not though, people create a tool that is unusable or doesn’t achieve the desired effect. My request of lawyers and people, in general, is to take time to consider the optimal solution to a problem, and then consider what tools would help achieve those goals. Sometimes the tools needed aren’t tech tools at all.
What legal tech have you created and what are you working on creating?
We built Florida Pro Bono Matters, which showcases available pro bono opportunities in Florida. The cases are posted by legal services programs all over the state so that attorneys can shop for cases that interest them. We’re currently building another access to justice tool, Florida Fresh Start, in collaboration with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid which will help Floridians see whether they qualify to expunge their criminal record. Also coming down the pipeline is our first product, TotemTimer. The TotemTimer is a time-keeping device that we designed, built, and patented, to assist anyone who tracks their billable time.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned about legal tech?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that a lot of people count themselves out too early. I’ve come across a lot of people who think they are bad with technology. What I want people to realize is that like everything, they can learn.